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Zhang Yimou

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Title: Curse of the Golden Flower
Original title:
滿城盡帶黃金甲
Directed by: Zhang Yimou
Written by:
Zhang Yimou, Cao Yu
Year: 2006

A movie directed by Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern) and starring Gong Li (from The Emperor and the Assassin and Raise the Red Lantern) has potential to be rather good, and so I wasn’t very surprised when the film started out in a satisfactory manner. The Curse of the Golden Flower is also course material in the same way as Raise the Red Lantern, which means that the actually watching of the movie was preceded by some study fo especially clothing from the appropriate era (late Tang dynasty).

The story focuses on the imperial household, where the ailing empress receives the emperor and their second son for the Chong Yang Festival. However, things are unlikely to go smoothly due to the tensions between the the emperor and his consort (he is slowly poisoning her), a well as various complicated relationships within the court itself (such as the illicit relationship between the empress and her stepson). And of course, even though things seem simple enough at first, there are some surprises in store.

I think this film starts out promisingly, but it loses momentum somewhere around the middle. The ending feels drawn out and when the credits start rolling in, I’m left with a sense of incompletion. The setting and the characters are good, though, along with the visual appearance of almost anything in the entire film (lots of gold and soldiers). On the negative side, the fighting scenes are horrible. They consist of so many close-ups that the fighting is reduced to a totally incomprehensible blur. That might be good in some movies, but wuxia films cannot get away with that. Also, Gong Li is a good actress, but this film consists of a few too many scenes focusing on her distressed face. It’s good, but it’s not enough to make a good movie. The Curse of the Golden Flower starts promisingly, but sadly loses momentum and degenerates along the way.

All told, I enjoyed watching this film, especially the first half, but I felt a little bit tired towards the end. I don’t regret watching it, but I did expect more. Three snails to Curse of the Golden Flower.

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Title: Raise the Red Lantern
Original title:
大紅燈籠高高掛
Directed by: Zhang Yimou
Written by:
Zhen Ni, Su Tong
Year: 1991

Even though this film has been recommended to me a long time ago, I only watched by accident, as it were. One of the courses I take at Wenzao Ursuline College of Language is called Media Chinese (I don’t know the English name, to be honest), and it’s all about movies, music, advertisement and so forth. So, during a couple of Tuesday mornings we watched Raise the Red Lantern by Zhang Yimou. The film had English subtitles, but  we still stopped frequently to discuss language, culture and other details. This helped me greatly in understanding the film, but also made the overall impression a bit scattered.

Raise the Red Lantern is set in the Warlord era, i.e. sometime in the 1920s. The story is about Songlian, a young girl who comes to the Chen household after her father has died and left the family bankrupt. Songlian enters the household as an innocent teenager, but the harsh rivalry and social game played between Chen’s three original wives (Songlian is the fourth) soon transforms her into a completely different person.The focus of the movie is the intricate drama acted out in the household, including everybody except Chen himself, who plays an anonymous, symbolic role.

I don’t think I would have appreciated this film so much if it weren’t for the the fact that our teacher could explain a lot of culturally significant details in the setting, acting, etcetera. This is dram as its best, and even though that is not my favourite genre, it’s hard not to like this film. Apart from the drama, the film is also quite beautifully made, the colour red being the most important visual aspect. There is a chance I might like this movie even more if I watch it again, but for now four snails will have to do.

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